An old student and friend of Said’s, Brennan is himself a formidable scholar, having authored numerous books and essays on topics from world literature to Hegel to jazz. But despite his personal relationship to his subject, Brennan quickly recedes into the background, following a short preface ... Previous books on Said have been organized around thematic chapters or individual essays. Without neglecting critical analysis, Brennan attempts to tell something more like a story. What emerges is a remarkably careful and considered narrative of Said’s life from cradle to grave—an account that is both synthesis and corrective ... Riffing on the title of Said’s memoir, which renders an image of the exile as always 'out of place,' Places of Mind turnsinward—to reveal the intellectual center of a seemingly roving career ... Places of Mind takes the task of the intellectual biography to heart: it understands Said’s life by way of his work, and understands his work by way of the thinker at its center. That’s not to say that Said’s thought was uniform. If anything, he recognized and often relished his own contradictions: a critic of Orientalism who was also an Anglophile, a social scientist who was also an aesthete, a radical leftist with expensive tastes. Yet for Brennan, Said was, above all, a literary critic, and the only way to understand him is through reading, well, his literary criticism ... as much an intellectual biography as a kind of literary criticism on literary criticism. In immensely readable prose, Brennan flexes his expertise as one of the world’s leading authorities on Said.
... impressive and rigorous ... The book has its surprises ... For a man with the surname Brennan, this biographer is remarkably silent on Said’s superb analysis (in Culture and Imperialism) of WB Yeats as a foremost poet of decolonisation—of the ways in which Yeats was not only the Irish Shakespeare but also (as Emer Nolan has wittily put it) its Salman Rushdie ... Timothy Brennan has his teacher’s aphoristic gifts ... He captures the lonely integrity of a man castigated as 'a designer Arab' by some of those he did most to defend.
[A] useful and rich explication of Said’s trajectory, from his first mentors—R. P. Blackmur at Princeton and Harry Levin at Harvard—to his affiliation with French theorists, to his firm rejection of their ahistorical, ungrounded approach in favor of a historically informed, pragmatically revolutionary vision—which, indeed, might overlap significantly with McCarthy’s ... Brennan is very fine on the evolution of Said’s thought and writing, as well as on his return, after his leukemia diagnosis in 1991, to the music that had been central to his youth (he was a pianist of near-concert-level accomplishment) and his creation, with Daniel Barenboim, of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. But the book’s professional focus can come at the expense of other aspects of Said’s life ... Brennan notes Said’s important friendship with his fellow Palestinian-American academic Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, but gives the reader little impression of the man. Similarly, Said’s other friends, his parents, sisters, wives, and children, are present in the text (as is one mistress, a writer named Dominique Eddé, though it’s implied that there were others), but remain largely ciphers ... Nevertheless, Said’s vitality and lasting importance as both a scholar and a public figure emerge strongly in these pages.